Beacons Help Close the Customer Experience Gap
Beacon hardware may be tough to see, but the benefits iBeacon technology brings brick-and-mortar businesses are not. iBeacon is Apple's Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) wireless technology providing location-based services to iPhones and iOS devices. The actual beacons are tiny and cheap, designed to transmit signals at close range to apps installed on iPhones. The iBeacon upside for retail, however, is huge – a golden opportunity in the e-commerce era to engage and entice a live audience.
The good news is health and fitness already has a live, captive audience. iBeacons can only enhance a club, especially a full-service club. From food to gear, getting close enough to motivate a customer means everything to a club with multiple businesses under one roof.
Although slim, early market data suggests iBeacons are increasing customer engagement and app usage.
Context is king
Big retailers like Macy's, McDonald's and Safeway represent the first wave of iBeacon adopters, targeting customers with advertisements, coupons, promotions, and anything else the digital world can offer that the analog world can't. Millennials aren't hunting sales circulars or responding to what brands have to say off-line. Regardless of target market we now live in a mobile first world where all companies must fight for consumer attention.
Retailers are thrilled because iBeacons enable the right technology to hit customers with the right deals, in the right place, at the right time. We sit in a sweet spot because health and fitness facilities often wear many faces. Cafes, pro shops, and tennis courts are just a few examples of where iBeacons can alert members and guests to micro-local offerings. How about the sauna? Texting while sweating in the sauna might as well be an Olympic sport now.
In action, a beacon can only recognize an installed app. So a customer won't enjoy any in-store perks without the retailer's app already downloaded. Currently, all beacon hardware is designed and manufactured by third-party providers. Apple does not make beacon hardware. The iBeacon technology is right, however, because it's the right fit between GPS and NFC. GPS is inaccurate in short range and NFC requires super close proximity. For browsing a store, wandering a venue, or moving from tennis to tacos, iBeacon is the right fit.
Almost forgot, iBeacons talk to Android phones as well.
Where are the beacons?
Retail makes the best sense for iBeacons, yes. But Major League Baseball likes them too. Most ballparks will be dressed out in beacons for the 2015 season. Think 100 or so discrete beacons pointing you toward stadium promos, concession discounts, even your seat. Healthcare companies are also experimenting with iBeacon technology. Museums, looking for a way to boost attendance, are using beacons to draw attention to displays. All loyalty and rewards programs are great matches for iBeacon technology.
The applications are endless, suggesting iBeacon technology may help bridge the gap between the physical and virtual worlds of both commerce and entertainment. And iBeacons help broaden the path to mobile payment adoption. All of this excites businesses – like baseball – that need people to show up and buy things, actually be there. Not unlike an MLB park, full-service fitness facilities have a lot of options and thrive on customers "being there."
Wild Wild West
Estimote, a maker of beacons, is a big player in the industry and has been in business since 2012. The field is wide open and still experimenting. In fact, most of the development and innovation surrounding iBeacons has been the work of startups and their partners. Why? iBeacons are not Apple-specific. In fact, Apple hasn't done much yet except register the iBeacon trademark.
The downside? Customers fear being bombarded by brands all over the mall. And retailers fear getting dropped from a buyer's app collection for being a nuisance. Of course, the usual privacy and security concerns exist. With iBeacons being shiny and new, maybe the killer app is still out there? Lots to be worked out.
inMarket, a beacon advertising platform, reported app users receiving a beacon message across their Mobile to Mortar program: increased interactions with advertised products by 19x, in-store app usage was 16.5x greater, and shoppers were 6.4x more likely to keep the store's app on their phone.
Again, iBeacons are just getting off the runway. Estimote is rallying the developer community around their hardware, hoping micro-location and contextual awareness over a slick protocol will help build a giant ecosystem around their products. PayPal is in the beacon game. Virgin Atlantic is testing creative ways to deploy iBeacon technology at airports. More to come, but iBeacons look like a great way to help close the dreaded customer experience gap. Health and fitness would make a great use case.
About CSI Software
CSI Software provides fully integrated, single source health and fitness club management software to health and fitness clubs, campus recreation centers, parks and recreation facilities, wellness centers and hotels and fitness resorts, as well as JCC, YMCA and YWCA organizations.